EKN Trackside: 2013 Rotax Pan American Challenge – Friday
Americans shine during qualifying sessions, setting up for Rotax Grand Finals bids
Senior Max driver Nick Neri was among the six Americans to score pole position in Friday Qualifying (Photo: Studio52.us)
The first day of racing action took place at the NOLAMotorsportsPark in New Orleans for the running of the 2013 Rotax Pan-American Challenge. Nearly 200 drivers from across the world gathered this week to compete and prepare as the season draws to a close. For some, it’s a chance to add to the CV with a prestigious win while gaining testing notes for the upcoming Rotax Grand Finals on November 10-16. For others, it’s a chance to earn the final tickets awarded to compete in next month’s world championship for their respective counties at the ‘Olympics of Karting’. Today was a strong showing for the host Americans, stealing six of the seven pole positions on the day. Challenging weather conditions made for some dramatic racing during the afternoon as a rain storm at lunch time soaked the track, and forced half the events to run under wet weather conditions. The others were spent dodging the puddles around the 1.1-mile course in an effort to gain maximum grip on slick Mojo tires.
The top driver in the opening qualifying session for the Pan-American Challenge was Canadian Mathew Latifi (Tony Kart). Already qualified for the Rotax Grand Finals Invitational, he set fast lap with a time of 1:05.445 which was over two tenths quicker than Florida driver Harry Coulton (Birel). Nicholas d’Orlando (Tony Kart) was third with Maxwell Waithman (Kosmic) and Emiliano Richards (CRG) capping off the fast-five.
Rain hit the facility during the lunch break and Micro Max was first to hit the track under wet conditions. Latifi and Coulton led the field to the green and battled for the top spot through the opening circuit. On lap two, Latifi would spin in the turn two complex, and went off course, and was able to return to the track after falling to the last position. This gave Coulton the lead as pulled out to a solid advantage until he spun on lap three. From the sixth spot on the grid, Tyler Gonzalez (AM Kart) would retain the lead position after the top two would have spinning issues. Gonzalez would go on to score the win by 1.5 seconds over Patrick Toth Woods (CRG) after the Canadian started 15th. Sebastian Rodriguez (Tony Kart) also benefitted from the rain, moving to third from 12th. American d’Orlando was fourth with Richards holding the fifth spot.
A field of 12 drivers filled out the Masters Max field, racing for a VIP experience at the Rotax Grand Finals next month courtesy of MAXSpeed Group. Leading the way was OVRP driver Chris Bogart (Tony Kart) setting the quick lap of the session – 59.098. A full half-second behind was Utah’s Justin Peck (Tony Kart), the Challenge of the Americas vice-champion. Tony Kart filled out the top-four with Raul Costa and Michael Auriemma, while Armando Watson (Sodi Kart) capped off the fast-five.
Bogart took advantage of his pole position to score the opening heat race win. Getting away from the field early in the wet-weather event, Bogart drove to a five-second advantage over Peck. Costa was able to hold third for through the race as a great battle for fourth ensued during the seven-lap race. Joseph Antavi (Kosmic) advanced from 12th to fourth, including a spin in the opening lap. He was able to edge out Watson and Auriemma for the spot. Peck and Antavi however would be penalized five positions for track width following the race, moving Costa to second. Watson third, Auriemma fourth and Zachary Rouse (CRG) fifth.
Drafting was a very important portion of qualifying in the Mini Max division with the top five drivers clocking in times within one tenth of a second. Leading the time chart was KRex Fredrick (Kosmic), setting a lap time of 1:02.517. Mexican Grand National champion Manuel Sulaiman (AM Kart) was second, just 36 thousandths off his time. American’s filled out the remaining fast-five drivers with Aidan Keel (Birel), David Malukas (Top Kart) and Michael Benyahia (Tecno).
Frederick and Sulaiman led the field to the green flag with a number of four and five-wide action through the very wide opening corner. Aside from a few bumps, it was very clean for the young drivers. Frederick bogged on the exit and fell a number of spots, as did Sulaiman, with Mathias Ramirez (Tony Kart) coming from 11th to first through the opening two sections of the track. Enzo Fittipaldi da Cruz (tony Kart) with Malukas, Jose Alvarado (Kosmic) and Sting Ray Robb (Tony Kart) making up the top-five. Robb was the driver on the move, up to the second position by the end of lap three, with Malukas coming through to push Fittipaldi back to fourth. Up front, Ramirez stole the show as he drove away to a near six-second advantage when the checkered flag flew. Robb finished second with Malukas third. Nick Brueckner, the 2012 Micro Max US national champion, advanced from tenth to finish fourth with Fittipaldi ending up fifth.
A stout field of DD2 Masters drivers took to the track for their 10-minute qualifying session. With two titles to his credit already this season, American Alan Rudolph (Praga) set the pace during the session. His lap of 56.818 was best by more than a tenth over a international-filled roster. Brazilian Fernando Guzzi (Praga), racing for the last Grand Finals ticket up for grabs, was second in the order. Team USA driver Mike Jones (Praga) was third with long time Rotax driver from Belgium Christophe Adams (Birel) in fourth. Completing the fast-five was US Rotax Masters Max runner-up driver Scott Falcone (Praga), another Team USA driver.
Rudolph held the top spot as they began the heat one event with Jones able to slide past Guzzi. Veteran Adams would also push past Guzzi to be third after the opening lap, and on the tail of the top three. On lap two, Jones would pressure Rudolph for the lead, brining in Adams closer. Adams would move past Jones for the second spot, and then pressure Rudolph for the lead on lap three. By the completion of the lap, he would hold the top spot, pushing the PSL Atlantic driver back to second. With the track drying, only two drivers took to the track on dry tires. Among them was Can-Am Karting Challenge champion Derek Wang (Praga). Starting 14th, he lost a few spots early but by the end of the race was among the quickest drivers on course. Jones would keep the pressure on Rudolph, thus allowing Adams to cruise on the drying track to the race win. Jones would end up second with Rudolph holding off a charging Robbie Poupart (CRG), up from 16th to fourth and Johannes Rodriguez (Kosmic) fifth. Poupart however would come out of the tech barn non-compliant with the engine squish, and thus removed from the results. That put Rodriguez fourth and Guzzi up to fifth. Wang ended up to 8th after the penalties with the fast lap of the race on the final circuit.
It went down to the wire for the pole position in Senior Max, with 31-driver vying for the top spot. Tony Kart dominated the top spot, shuffling between defending Rotax world champion Charlie Eastwood and former US champ Nick Neri. Eastwood held the provisional position for most of the session until Neri was able to better his time on his final circuit, posting a 56.660-second lap. His Ocala Gran Prix teammate and reigning US champion Oliver Askew (Tony Kart) slotted up to second in his final circuit, coming up just 11 thousandths short. Eastwood ended only 31 thousandths back of Neri to end up third. New York driver Jack Weprin (FA Kart) ended up fourth with Florida pilot Dan Roeper (Tony Kart) rounding out the fast-five.
The track had dried up enough for slick Mojo tires with Neri and Askew leading the field. The front few rows drifted wide at the start of the race, allowing CRG factory driver Jordon Lennox-Lamb to come from 10th to first in the opening corners of the race. Eastwood slotted into second with Weprin, Neri and Roger Ralston Jr. (FA Kart) making up the top five. Beasley would fall to the tail of the field with Askew back to the tail of the top-10. Lap two, Eastwood took over the top spot from Lennox with Ralston up to third with Swedish driver Philip Morin (FA Kart) into fifth. The drivers continued to struggle with grip, as the track was still not completely dry. One of the quickest drivers on the track was eKartingNews.com #1 TaG driver Louie Pagano (Sodi Kart), as the Dallas Karting Complex pilot drove from 13th and into the top-five by lap six. Eastwood would pull away to a one-second advantage with four laps remaining as Lennox came under pressure from Neri and Morin. At the checkered flag, Eastwood recorded a nine tenths lead with the rest of the drivers fighting for second. Morin was on the charge, among the quickest drivers on course and ended up second. Lennox held off Neri at the line for third but was penalized for two on-track penalties, which dropped him back to seventh in the final order. Pagano would move up to third as Neri would also be penalized three seconds for on-track penalty. That put Weprin into fourth and Neri back to fifth. Askew had trouble, finishing 24th with Beasley up to 16th after 10 laps.
With 38 drivers in the Junior Max field, the roster was split into odd number and even number groups. The odd karts hit the track first for their 10-minute opportunity with Pedro Cardoso setting the first mark, posting a 59.310-second lap, edging out Austria driver Thomas Preining (CRG) by nine thousandths. The even number pilots would work their way up to Cardoso’s lap time, with the closing laps deciding the pole position. Florida drivers Kyle Kirkwood (Tony Kart) and Ashley Rogero (Tony Kart) set the benchmark. Kirkwood was the only driver below the 58-second mark, posting a 57.886-second lap. Rogero – the US Rotax Grand Nationals runner-up – would end up second with US champ Juan Manuel Correa (Energy) third. Cardoso would fall to fourth with Preining completing the fast-five.
The opening heat race for Junior Max was the Group A vs. B event as the top two qualifiers of Kirkwood and Rogero led the field to the opening corner of the 7-lap event. Rogero would take the outside line and breakaway from the field with the lead. Jai Nijjar (Tony Kart) from Great Britain came away with the second spot over American Austin Versteeg (Kosmic). Preining was fourth with Guan Yu Zhou (Tony Kart) into fifth. Nijjar was able to close back up on Rogero as they laps clicked off. He made a final attempt in the final corner of the final lap, but Rogero was able to criss-cross to hold the lead and the win. Nijjar held on for second with Versteeg ending third, just back of the top two. Preining drove alone in fourth with Ferdinand Habsburg (Birel) placing fifth. Kirkwood was able to fight back to the sixth position.
The C vs. D group hit the track with Correa and Cardoso on the front row. They would slide out wide through the opening corners as the field shuffled around with a number of drivers struggling for grip. By the end of lap two, it was Philip Hamprecht (Kosmic) in the top spot as the German driver led by over 1.5 seconds. Juri Vips (Energy) was second with Jeff Kingsley (Tony Kart), Cardoso, and McKay Snow (Kosmic) making up the top-five. Once the field settled down, Cardoso was the quickest driver on the course as he was putting the pressure on second and third. On lap six, Cardoso moved around Kingsley in turn six, having just one more lap to find a way past the Estonian driver. A final push in the final corner would not be enough as Vips held on to the spot. Out-front, Hamprecht scored the win. Kingsley ended up fourth with Ocala Gran Prix driver Austin Garrison (Tony Kart) placing fifth, working past RPG’s Snow in the closing laps.
A star-studded field did not disappoint in the DD2 qualifying session. The international stars took to the NOLA circuit for 10-minutes, deciding the line-up for the heat races. American champion Daniel Formal (Kosmic) would lock up the pole position late in the session with a 55.532-second lap. Hungarian Ferenc Kanscsar (CRG), looking for the Rotax Grand Finals ticket, was second in the session as Formal edged him out by 51 thousandths. Two-time champion Pier-Luc Ouellette was third with 2012 US champ Joey Wimsett (CRG) fourth despite battling flu conditions throughout the day. Swedish driver Andreas Backman (Tony Kart) completed the fast-five.
Formal was able to hold off a hungry DD2 field with a number of drivers looking to improve on their position from qualifying in the opening heat race. Kanscsar was right there in second with Ouellette on their bumper. Lap four, Formal went wide in turn seven to allow Kancsar a path to the point. Formal struggled again the following circuit, putting the former world champion Ouellette to close up more. Behind them was a great battle for fourth with Wimsett coming under the gun from Xen De Ruwe (CRG), starting ninth on the grid. The Belgian moved to fourth and on lap seven, Wimsett spun around in turn seven to drop to the tail of the field. That put Challenge of the Americas champion Fritz Leesmann (CRG) into fifth. Kancsar would drive to a four-second advantage with Pier-Luc able to move past Formal for the second spot. De Ruwe ended up fourth with Leesmann holding fifth after 10 laps. Following the race, it was discovered that Formal drove nearly the entire race without a floor pan below his feet. The EKN Facebook photo shows the result of his holding on, with his feet scraping the ground around the 1.1-mile course for numerous laps.